Longtime HOLA Volunteer Doña Lilia Honored with Prestigious HALO Award

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“HOLA means family to me” -Doña Lilia

At 67 years of age, Lilia Aguilar (lovingly known at HOLA as Doña Lilia) is one of Heart of Los Angeles’ (HOLA’s) longest-serving volunteers. She began volunteering at HOLA in 2002 after enrolling her then six year-old son, Diego, as a member of the inaugural class of HOLA’s elementary school program. As a single mother who was struggling to raise a son on her own, having a place where her son could go after-school to receive additional academic support meant a lot to her, and she has shown her gratitude and appreciation ever since.

Not long after, her path crossed with Liz, a woman in her 90s who had been a part of the HOLA family since we first opened our doors at Immanuel Presbyterian Church. Liz, realizing that kids were hungry, had been hosting an HOLA “Sandwich Table.” She would place her walker to the side and serve peanut butter & jelly, bologna, and turkey sandwiches each Thursday afternoon to kids walking through the door. Doña Lilia eventually formed a friendship with Liz, and when Liz passed away Doña Lilia made a commitment to Liz’s legacy by running the sandwich table herself. Doña Lilia has remained loyal to this volunteer position to this day.

With more than 15 years of volunteer service, Doña Lilia has prepared and provided over 71,000 sandwiches to students.

When asked what HOLA means to her, Doña Lilia pauses and tries to compose herself, but she cannot help the tears that come. She says, “HOLA means family to me.” Having migrated to the United States from Ecuador in search of a better life, Doña Lilia recalls how hard it was to navigate a world that was foreign and often intimidating. She made this journey on her own and like many immigrants, didn’t have a social network to call on for support. She explains how this changed when HOLA came into her life. She describes being invited to HOLA holiday parties and gatherings, and the meaningful relationships she has formed. It is her feeling of immense gratitude to HOLA that motivates Doña Lilia to go above and beyond to show her appreciation through volunteerism, and in doing so, she also shares the sense of family she found at HOLA with the kids who we serve--she makes our organization feel like home. And because of Doña Lilia, “HOLA means family” to thousands of people who needed a community, just like she did.

When the opportunity came to nominate an exemplary volunteer for the 2017 HALO Award, the decision was easy. We are thrilled to present Doña Lilia with a HALO Award prize from the Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation for her years of dedicated service to the Heart of Los Angeles community.

Our community presented the award to her during a surprise lunch party on November 21st; for once, it was our chance to make her lunch! While maintaining her graceful composure, she was clearly moved by the recognition, saying, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

HOLA cannot adequately express the tremendous impact Doña Lilia has had in this community and although she has never sought monetary compensation, accolades, and awards, her loving dedication and efforts are more than worthy of praise. Volunteers like Doña Lilia are rare, and we are so fortunate to have her in our midst, inspiring all of us each day with her service.

In addition, the announcement of the HALO award kicks off a year-long #HALOatHOLA campaign, during which HOLA will use additional grant funds from the Deutsch Foundation to grow the capacity of our volunteer program.  We are so excited to increase opportunities for volunteers to be a part of our community.

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 Doña Lilia, pictured with HOLA Operations Director Alex Nataren, after hearing news of her award.

Doña Lilia, pictured with HOLA Operations Director Alex Nataren, after hearing news of her award.

December 8, 2017